The second half of Australian comedy duo and multimedia brand Hamish & Andy tells a story about having fun and success by seeking honesty and adventure.
Following part 1 with Hamish Blake, here are radio career success tips from Andy Lee based on his experience during the radio years of Hamish & Andy, from his conversation with Craig Bruce for the excellent Game Changers: Radio podcast. Hamish and Andy’s motivation, now more than ever, is to pursue joy above all. “Ratings actually don’t matter.”
“It’s more than the funny; it’s the fun”
Chase your natural curiosity
Andy Lee’s first radio show took place at home, with his younger sister as a co-host. “It was back in the days where you could press Play-Record”, he says about the late 1980’s, when he recorded himself on cassette while speaking over song intros that were coming out of the radio. “I was fascinated with sound, and how you can ‘intro’ songs. I loved the idea of broadcasting to a lot of people.” At school, he was captain of both the sports team and the music team, or, as he recalls: “I was a jock, and a nerd. From a young age, I loved trying things, no matter what it was. I didn’t mind if I wasn’t good at it, it was just whether I was enjoying it. I also didn’t want anyone telling me: you wouldn’t be into that, or: this isn’t for you. Even if I’ve got a heavy hunch that I’m not gonna’ be into it: try it out, learn about it, and then you can put it aside.”
Assemble your dream team
He even studied accountancy for a while. “Hamish has a go at me on the radio show constantly in a segment called Upset Andy, which is about my schedules, and how anal I can be about certain aspects. The thing about accountancy was: you put everything in the right spot and it equals, and I like that.” He eventually changed his university classes to marketing management, and then met his friend for life. He and Hamish Blake have a unique chemistry: “I honestly believe I’ve never met anyone funnier in the world, and I found that my response to him was making him funnier, and vice versa.” Andy feels like they’re a perfect match because he can often sit back and admire Hamish’ performance, while being a driving force and idea generator. “I’m the person that wants it to be bigger, and knows what we have to do to get it.”
Exchange your thoughts often
“It’s more than the funny; it’s the fun”, Andy Lee says about why their radio show, which they ended in 2017 to have more time for new projects, has been successful. “It’s not out there to be punchline humour; it’s just fun.” The two personalities seem to be a huge part of that. Andy describes his friend as both book smart yet pretty naive, which often leads to quirky storylines. The friendship remained strong, even when business came into play as it became clear that they could make a lot of money for themselves and others. “You’re getting treated differently, and different pressures are getting put on you.” The solution was to have an open dialogue about anything that made any of them feel uncomfortable, both together and with their regular producer Sam Cavanagh. “He was great at giving us a forum to talk.”
“I really didn’t want our show to sound like a radio show”
Keep your devotion up
Andy Lee illustrates how his relation with Hamish Blake changed from being “best mates having the time of their life” to experiencing “a bit more serious, and a bit more stressful” environment, especially in TV. The alliance became sort of like a marriage: “You know you’re in for the long haul, so highs may not be as high, but lows aren’t as low; you’ve got to keep balance.” He feels like their most recent radio stint helped them to rediscover the enthusiasm of the early years. It felt more relaxed than when they hosted their most successful drive time show, because market shares as high as 25% also made them cautious. “At the time, we were like: we have to preserve this; we have to keep it going. Now we’re like: that doesn’t matter; ratings actually don’t matter. We’re just having so much fun again.”
Embrace your aircheck sessions
Despite being driven, Hamish & Andy didn’t have great expectations when soliciting for a time slot. In the beginning, it didn’t look like they would get on air, as demos for Melbourne stations Fox FM, NOVA, and even college radio SYN 90.7 were rejected. Andy went to work for The Kyle and Jackie O Show to “get in the building”, and to “meet and learn” (from) experienced radio professionals. “I wanted to get good really quickly. I was a prolific note taker.” In 2003, an opportunity presented itself. He and Hamish got a chance to host The Almost Tuesday Show on Monday between 10pm and midnight on Fox, where they would make huge progress through extraordinary work ethics. “I loved the airchecks, because I just wanted to know: how do they think we can improve? I made really clear notes about what I wanted to achieve.”
Build your success habits
Fifteen minutes before airtime, he reviewed his notes from the last aircheck to have them top of mind again, including things to ‘don’t do again’ so he could avoid making the same mistake twice. He would then choose three key points to implement in that show. “If we had a lot of notes, I would go: which ones are the ones I wanna’ do this week? It becomes muscle memory.” The fact that they were new to radio, actually accelerated their learning curve. “I didn’t have any habits at that point; I was just trying to establish habits. I was doing a little bit more of the ‘radio heavy lifting’ with regard to the back announcing and stuff; that was the stuff I wanted to sound slick. But I really didn’t want our show to sound like a radio show”, Andy says about the sort of ‘un-radio’ that he and Hamish were basically creating.
“These were all people going: I hope my career goes okay!”
Find your own voice
When starting out, they were still doing radio by the book. “We were trying to be what we ‘should’ sound like; what we ‘thought’ was funny. When you finally find your voice, you can take your influences, but not mimic them.” Hamish & Andy then began doing what felt like fun, which lead to comedy based on “making something unimportant seem really important”, and on envoking a feeling. “I love the emotion in radio. I don’t think there’s many mediums you can actively participate in so quickly, and then feel emotion. You’ll get far more emotion [from radio] than from social media.”
Maintain your positive attitude
Andy Lee was only 22 when he and Hamish got their first show, which was a benefit. “You don’t doubt yourself at that age very much. A lot of the decisions we made, we’d never make now, because we’d be too scared to make them; there’s too much at stake. It was the pursuit of fun that kept it going.” When Southern Cross Austereo decided to put The Hamish & Andy Show on Fox FM in January 2006 (nationwide syndicated from June 2006), every weekday from 4-6pm, they had instant success, also thanks to being significantly different from established radio shows.
Take your show outside
“We were genuinely best buds, where a lot of other teams were put together, and we loved adventures.” While most shows never left their studio, Hamish & Andy would do a lot of things on location. ‘Lucky’ timing played a role as well. Home station Fox FM had an exclusive chance to benefit from an upcoming pop music cycle, which competitors ignored because it apparently didn’t fit the format. “In our first year, we had Katy Perry come on for I Kissed a Girl, Lady Gaga for Paparazzi, Rihanna for SOS… and these were all people going: I hope my career goes okay!” Other stations also lacked a strong drive time show at the time, so there was less daypart competition. “I’m proud of the show, but there’s a lot of other facets that formed the wave of people coming to sample it.”
“If you get to grab one out of ten, that’s awesome”
Polish your work ethic
Talking about their relation with program directors, he feels like their support has been really important. “I think, for our show specifically, them backing our ideas is incredible.” He sometimes hears radio personalities blame programmers for not understanding them, while it may be a result of the talent’s attitude: “I think if PD’s see that you’re working hard, you will get a lot more support.” They once had a funny discussion with a content director who wanted to put them on air for only four days a week, and air another show on Friday, supposedly because there was ‘not enough money’. Hamish and Andy didn’t want to encourage listeners to sample other shows on that fifth weekday, so they offered to host that one for free (knowing their PD couldn’t refuse without admitting that he withheld the real reason). That became their famous Pants Off Friday.
Cultivate your constructive approach
“I feel like there’s always a way”, Andy Lee explains why he doesn’t take no for an answer, not even from management, as a positive mindset can influence your colleagues to think in possibilities. Fox FM’s engineers found technical solutions for remote broadcasts during The Tall Ship Adventure that seemed impossible at first, after Hamish and Andy suggested to broadcast from a tall ship, believing it would be possible. “It’s not just what Hamish and I are doing. As soon as we’ve got these ideas, everyone doesn’t want to take no for answer. From the engineering team; producing team; PD’s, it’s like: why can’t we do that?” Having a playful attitude helps, too: “If you’re having fun on the journey — if it fails, that’s just funny. If you keep doing them, you’re going to get winds that become even more memorable.”
State your real opinions
They also let go of classic radio rules, like ‘storylines need a satisfying end’ after spending four weekdays on talking about ‘psychic’ people, such as palm readers and tarot interpreters. Hamish’s role was trying to turn Andy into a believer. Their producer suggested that on Friday, following story arcs, Andy would admit that he now ‘believed’. Andy felt reluctant, as that wouldn’t be authentic. Hamish backed him up. “We all sat in the room, looking at each other, going: is this breaking some kind of radio rule…? That was really freeing! To me, it’s this pivotal moment of: ‘let’s try anything’, and: ‘it’s journey-based, but you don’t have to set your destination’. Reach for the stars. If you get to grab one out of ten, that’s awesome.”
“They make our stories and our gags so much better”
Strengthen your listener relationship
Studio visitors were surprised that during Pants Off Friday, Hamish & Andy really took their pants down. “What’s the point if you’re not doing it?”, Andy says about those and other little stunts. “We did Hear No Evil, See No Evil, where I was ‘blind’ for a whole weekend, and Hamish was ‘deaf’. Conjoined Twins was another one; we were strapped together for a week.” They set up webcams so people could watch them 24/7, and handed journalists the keys to Andy’s house, telling them that they could come in at any time, which helped them to achieve credibility for authenticity from the get-go. “We don’t ever misplace that trust.” He says the motive for their stunts are having fun and/or being curious.
Leverage your audience input
Andy Lee feels like today’s technology makes it even easier for new talents to create original content, like in their radio days, when they applied then-new technologies such as ISDN and bluetooth to broadcast live during Caravan of Courage and The Tall Ship Adventure. They also were pretty early adopters of Facebook and podcasting. “I suspect that we will see technology being used for a whole new approach.” Now that Hamish & Andy have left radio, he does miss the interaction with his friend, and the intimacy of the medium. “There’s not many other mediums where it’s really just the two of you. Secondly, I just love hearing from people out there. They make our stories and our gags so much better.”
Header image: Southern Cross Austereo